Overclocking is the process of making your processor run at its maximum potential. The purpose of overclocking is to speed up the computer and enhance the performance of programs, applications and the operating system in general. It is a good way to enhance the overall performance of the computer without having to spend any money on new components. But, overclocking isn’t as straightforward as it seems. It comes with certain risks and dangers.
How is it even possible to overclock the processor you may ask? Well, by default, the processors do not run at their full potential. The manufacturers restrict the processor speed to a certain level they find to be ‘safe.’ This not only makes the CPU more durable, it also ensures the protection of other components of the PC.
Overclocking methods vary by chipsets. Intel and AMD are the most widely used processor chipsets and they use almost the same overclocking methods. However, some special chipsets have their own set of overclocking techniques. In this article, we will discuss the generic methods to optimize the performance of the processor. However, if you are using a rare chipset, you may want to follow the overclocking guide more specific to it.
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The first thing you need to know is that not all the processors cannot be overclocked. You can overclock a CPU only if the processor is unlocked. Intel offers both variants of the processors. The ‘K’ label indicates it is an unlocked processor. A ‘non-K’ Intel processor is locked and cannot be overclocked.
Overclocking may not yield the same results even with two exactly same chipsets. This is because the performance after overclocking also depends upon the other hardware specs including motherboard, RAM, etc.
When you are overclocking, you will want to make sure that you are getting the right results. You will also need to ensure that the processor is performing to the best of its capabilities without posing any serious threat to the components. This is why it is important to use a Stress Test Tool.
Thankfully, there are plenty of free tools out there that help you monitor your system performance, voltage and temperature. CPU-Z and Prime95 are some of the most widely used Stress Test and Benchmarking tools. Make sure you install them before starting the overclocking process.
Getting Started – Run The Pre-Overclocking Tests
Before you get started, it would be worth your while to run the pre-overclocking stress test. This will help you determine the original settings against which you will benchmark the processor performance post overclocking. The pre-overclocking test also finds out if there are any problems with the original settings you need to fix for better results.
Temperature is one of the most important aspects to consider before, during and after overclocking. If the temperature is high (75 °C or higher) this means your CPU is already overheating. Overclocking will heat the CPU more and thus is more likely to cause damages. But, that’s not a problem you cannot fix. Here are two solutions for overheating:
- Apply a new layer of thermal paste over the processor. If you have been using the processor for a long time, the thermal paste may have dried off resulting in overheating.
- If applying the thermal paste does not solve the issue, there could be a problem with the heatsink. You may need to buy a new heatsink before overclocking.
While temperature is a big concern, it is not the only one. What if the temperature is well within the safe range and yet your computer keeps crashing while performing the stress test? This means that there is some issue with the hardware you need to fix. But, how to pinpoint the exact problem?
There is a whole gamut of possibilities and saying anything without looking at your computer would be shot in the dark. It could be your motherboard, RAM or even the power supply. We would recommend you to get your computer checked by an expert.
Overclock Method 1: Use Third-party Software
Using a third-party software program is the easiest way to overclock your CPU. These applications usually offer an easy to user interface and allow you to quickly tweak various parameters such as memory, core, voltage and power.
The choice of software usually varies depending upon the type of chipset you are using. For instance, the Intel processors can be overclocked using the Extreme Tuning Utility, which you can download from https://downloadcenter.intel.com/download/24075
If you have an AMD processor, you would like to use OverDrive utility instead. It is available for download at http://www.amd.com/en-us/innovations/software-technologies/technologies-gaming/over-drive.
Both these utilities are safe to use and are effective overclocking tools. However, you still need to be monitoring your computer performance constantly to make sure there are no stability issues. In fact, it would be a good idea to keep the stress test tool running for several hours after overclocking. The stability problems usually show up after a period of usage post overclocking.
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Overclock Method 2: Breach the BIOS
Using an overclocking software program is good, but it barely gives you any control over overclocking. This is why the experts usually recommend tweaking the BIOS settings to spike up the processor speed.
Using BIOS is also better in the way that you are making the changes out of the operating system and hence you don’t experience any operating system crashes. This also helps you avoid any software or process conflicts during overclocking. Additionally, when you use the software, you have to completely rely on what it can do for you. With BIOS, you can do just about anything you want to.
Note: Using software (method 1) is recommended for the beginners as it is safer. If you are an expert or wish to learn the advanced overclocking techniques, BIOS modification is more preferable.
Entering BIOS setup: Many find this part a little challenging when it is supposed to the easiest among all the things we will talk about here. Entering the BIOS setup is easy; you just need to be a little attentive. Restart your PC (or turn it on if it is shutdown) and the moment it starts booting up, press the key that will take you to the BIOS setup. The key varies across computer systems (motherboards). Usually, you need to press the Del or Delete key on the first boot-up screen. But, some systems may use a function key such as F2, F3, etc.
You need to be attentive because the ‘window’ of opportunity lasts only for a second or two. If the OS starts to boot up, you will need for it to load and then restart the PC again.
Inside the BIOS: The BIOS menu is different for different systems. You may need to scour the menu structure a little bit in order to find what you are looking for. The labels may also vary across systems. The good thing is the semantics remain the same and hence you should have no difficulty navigating to the desired option.
- The first thing we need to find our way to is the option related to Voltage and Frequency control. Some BIOS menus may have it even listed as ‘Overclocking’. This is the section which lets you alter the processor voltage and speed.
- The next thing we want to do is reduce the memory bus. Look up for a label that reads something like ‘Memory Frequency, Multiplier, or Memory Ratio. Set it to the lowest possible value. This will mitigate any chances of memory causing issues with overclocked processor.
- Bump up the base clock: this is the part where the processor speed is truly tweaked. We would recommend you to increase the speed first by 10% and run the stress tests to check the stability. If the CPU seems to run fine for a period of time at the new speed, you could give the clock another 10% raise. Bus Speed (or something similar sounding) is what you need to look at inside the BIOS. If the base clock is set at, let’s say, 150 MHz, and the multiplier is 10, your processor clock speed is 1.5 GHz. Raise it by 10% and you will have a new clock speed of 1.65 GHz.
- Reboot your PC and, as already said, run the stress test. Let it run for a few hours. If everything seems fine, go back to BIOS and increment the speed by another 10% and follow the same process again. However, if your computer is so much as borderline-unstable, we would highly recommend you to not push it beyond its limits as it may cause irreversible damages to the components. Go back to the BIOS and restore the clock to its default/factory settings.
- Voltage Increments: Before we even get started about the voltage increments, there is a word of caution. Voltage raise has a higher potential of damaging your PC’s components than the raise in the base clock. While an increased base clock beyond the limits usually results in operating system crashes, increased voltage can quickly fire up your circuits and components. There is only so much voltage a particular computer system can handle. This is why you need to be extremely careful with it; one wrong move and your PC turns kaput. Why even touch the voltage part when it is potentially so threatening to my PC? Because overclocked base clock cannot remain stable until there is sufficient voltage supply. This is why voltage increase often becomes a necessity with overclocking. Increment the voltage by no more than 0.025 at a time and run the stress tests for several hours before even thinking about another raise.